Spare the Air to determine who will receive free fares 

Grant money that has bankrolled free Bay Area transit on smoggy summer days in recent years has nearly all been spent, forcing air pollution regulators to decide whether they will spread the final millions of dollars across two or three free transit days this year.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District since 1991 has declared Spare the Air Days whenever stifling summer heat transforms air pollution into ozone, which is an oxygen-based substance that makes the air hard to breathe, according to district spokeswoman Karen Schkolnick.

Since 2004, the district has used grant money to pay for different types of free Bay Area transit on some Spare The Air Days, according to Schkolnick. She said $14 million was spent at the height of the program on six free transit days in 2006.

There was enough money available last year to pay for four free transit days, but only two Spare the Air Days were declared, leaving the district with enough money for two more free transit days this year.

District directors are scheduled on Wednesday to consider a proposal to use that money to provide free transit on two days on all 29 Bay Area transit operators. All would offer the pollution-reducing perk throughout the day, with the exception of BART, Caltrain and the ferries, which would offer free morning service only, according to Mark Ross with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

A district advisory committee on Monday unanimously voted to recommend that directors choose to fund two free transit days across all operators; before casting their votes, committee members discussed a proposal to provide free transit for three days on only 10 transit operators.

jupton@examiner.com

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